It was my senior year in high school. After school, I headed for my locker like usual. I think I needed some books for homework, something like that. I traipsed through the long hallway, ready to get home. I opened my locker and grabbed my book. I looked over my stuff to make sure I had everything, and then I shut my locker. Except I forgot one thing—to take my head out first.
Yes, I shut my head in my locker.
Not softly, either! I SLAMMED my head in my locker. It hurt—that eye-stinging hurt. I shut it right on my temples, and the pain radiated through my skull like sound through a tuning fork. Talk about mortifying. Who forgets to take their head out before shutting their locker? I could not have been more embarrassed. But here's where it gets weird:
It was after midnight; I just finished painting the stage for a show.
The halls were completely, utterly empty.
No one saw.
Yet I was still embarrassed. Not because people laughed at me, or even because anyone saw. It was all me—all in my slightly bruised head. I didn't really think much about it at the time, but looking back I find this event rather interesting. I mean, I was terrified that someone would find out. I worried about the security cameras capturing my clumsiness. And this was before YouTube exploded! I worried someone would ask about the bruise on the side of my face, tried to cover it up with makeup, wore my hair differently to hide it until faded. As if it was this huge, scandalous secret!
Now? I mostly just laugh at myself, but today I've been thinking a lot about this thing we call "embarrassment." As this incident so clearly shows, this feeling comes from us. No one made me feel embarrassed. I chose to be embarrassed, and I chose it based on how I thought other people would think of me if they knew.
Then I started thinking about the others things I'm embarrassed about. Not the silly head-slamming-in-locker moments, but the bigger things. Like how we don't have very much money. Or how my publishing journey has been so long and fraught with obstacles. Or even how I feel about my appearance. I realized my embarrassment came down to the same thing on that late night—I'm worrying about what other people will think.
The funny thing is, for a long time I thought that if I avoided "embarrassing" things then I wouldn't look or feel like a fool. But even if I hid "embarrassing" things about myself, I still felt like a fool or a phony or whatever. That's not the way to get rid of those feelings. In fact, it only breeds them, until there is so much you feel embarrassed about you can hardly make a move without worrying what someone will think.
No, the only way to get rid of embarrassment comes from inside. Because in reality, when you feel that way it's not so much that others think you're stupid or klutzy or unimportant—that's how you feel about yourself, and you're scared that everyone else knows. But no one else really cares, and even if they do it doesn't matter as much as how you feel about yourself.
Archaically, the word "embarrass" meant something slightly different. It meant to hamper or impede, to make difficult or intricate, to complicate. I find this definition fascinating, because in a way that is just what embarrassment is even now. It's allowing your insecurities to get in the way. It's letting yourself be impeded. It's making something more difficult than it needs to be.
I mean, so what if I shut my head in my locker? I made the whole thing so much more embarrassing (i.e. difficult and complicated) than it had to be. I let my insecurities take over.
I wish I could say I don't do that anymore, but I do sometimes. And every time I do I look back and shake my head at myself, because all my worries about what others would think never pan out. Most people never even notice. Lately, it's been one of my goals to stop being embarrassed, to stop getting in my own way. Because no one can make me feel embarrassed but myself.